The Rising Cost of Water

Posted on 09/19/13

H2O rates continue to swell. Here's a look at where the problem is escalating, what's driving the costs, and what landscape professionals can do about it.

Water. People use it every day - to drink, shower, flush toilets, brush teeth, water landscapes. People use water so frequently throughout the day and in so many ways, they don't even realize how much; its uses are limitless. Its uses are also necessary.

On top of that, water is also relatively inexpensive. As a result, people don't pay too much attention to the cost or how much of it they use.

But that is changing. As Americans are distracted with fluctuating fuel costs, water rates have doubled in the past 12 years, even tripling in a few areas, according to a USA Today survey of 100 municipalities. Another survey by Circle of Blue shows single-family residential water rates in the 20 largest U.S. cities and 10 regionally representative cities rose an average of 7.3 percent from 2011 to 2012 and nearly 18 percent since 2010. A Fast Company article even compared water's rising rates to that of something more expensive like cable vs. electricity or gas.

Understanding what's causing these surging prices can help landscape professionals better understand their roles in helping their customers reduce costs and save water.

Rising Rates

USA Today's study, which took a look at costs for a mix of water suppliers representing every state and Washington, D.C., found prices doubled in 29 localities. In three specific municipalities - Atlanta, San Francisco and Wilmington, Del. - water costs tripled.

In some cases, the increases are jaw-dropping. Chicago went through a 25-percent jump in 2012 and a further 15.1-percent rise this year. Across 30 cities, the Circle of Blue study found average water prices climbed 25 percent since 2010 - far above inflation levels. Austin, Texas (22 percent) and Tucson, Ariz. (17.6 percent) had the biggest increases since 2012 in Circle of Blue's survey, followed by Los Angeles at 12.4 percent, San Francisco at 12.8 percent and Charlotte, N.C., at 10.8 percent.

Furthermore, as of June 2013, 40 percent of U.S. counties are experiencing drought conditions. For businesses located in these water scarce areas, the options are clear: cut water use or prepare to pay increasing water rates, Circle of Blue says.

Drip, Drop?

What's causing the rising rates? A backlog of infrastructure repairs - work the federal government no longer subsidizes cities for, Circle of Blue's Brett Walton says.

The Environmental Protection Agency says cities will have to invest $384 million by 2030 to keep the water running. A whopping two-thirds of that price tag is for replacing and repairing water pipes. According to a USA Today-cited survey of experts released in June, that number is even higher - U.S. water systems will need as much as $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements by 2035.

Consumers are expected to fund those projects through their water bills.

Less Is More?

Water costs continue to rise even though residential water usage dropped sharply nationwide in the past three decades amid conservation efforts, USA Today reports. For instance, Circle of Blue's report shows Los Angeles households using less than 50 gallons per day per head saw bills rise 17.3 percent.

But this isn't always the case. Some cities changed their rate structures to incentivize less usage: 50 gallon families in Austin, Texas, for example, paid 0.5 percent less last year than in 2012, Circle of Blue points out.

One part of the problem is outdated and inefficient landscape irrigation systems. In fact, according to ValleyCrest, 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons of water or more per day.

What can landscape industry professionals do to help? Continue to update and renovate outdated irrigation systems on client properties and talk to them about changes they can make to increase water savings, industry experts recommend. Products that optimize water, lower flow rates and use local weather data can boost efficiency and reduce overall water use.


Wisniewski, Nicole. "The Rising Cost of Water" Turf Design Build Aug. 2013:  22.  Print.  Used by permission.